Best tips to stay safe during Australia’s bushfire season

Extreme weather is set to be the new normal, which means being prepared for a potentially fiery summer is a must. Here’s how to stay safe.

Anyone who has been near a raging bushfire knows the fast-moving devastation it can bring to homes, surroundings and lives.

This makes understanding bushfire safety crucial, University of New South Wales’ Bushfire Research Group head Professor Jason Sharples says.

“This summer is going to be the first real test of the new fire danger rating system,” Prof Sharples, an internationally recognised expert in dynamic bushfire behaviour and extreme bushfires, explains.

Know the bushfire danger ratings

The new Australian Fire Danger Rating System has redesigned the forecasting of fire danger, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council CEO Rob Webb says.

“Its daily forecast tells you how dangerous a bushfire would be if it broke out and what you need to do to stay safe on moderate, high, extreme and catastrophic days,” Rob says.

The new system was developed by state, territory and federal governments.

“The new, simpler system was informed by extensive community consultation and is backed by improvements in science, and means we can now better predict bushfire risk and communicate it more clearly to the public,” Rob adds.

The system is being used across Australia, so whether you’re at home or travelling, the four levels of fire danger remain the same:

Four levels of fire danger

Bushfire safety at home

You don’t have to live in the country to be at risk of fire, Country Fire Authority Victoria chief officer Jason Heffernan says.

“If you live near areas that have significant bush, forest, long grass or coastal scrub, then you need to plan ahead for the fire season,” Jason says.

“Simple things like mowing the lawn, tidying up around the house, removing twigs and leaves, clearing gutters, and moving the wood pile away from the back door can all help you prepare.”

A written plan will help you remember what needs to be done during a crisis, when you can be overwhelmed by the situation.

“Most fire authorities have a bushfire survival plan template which can be downloaded,” Jason says.

“It’s recommended you test anything that’s part of your fire plan, such as sprinklers, pumps and generators, and check that your home and contents insurance is current and includes a level of cover in line with current building standards and regulations.

“Your only safe option on serious fire risk days is to leave early – never wait to receive a warning.”

Bushfire safety on the road

Dangerous bushfires can start at any time so if you plan to hit the road this summer, it’s crucial to stay bushfire-prepared, the experts say. Here’s how:

  • Before travelling, check the latest fire alerts and road closures along your route and adjust plans if needed.
  • Carry an emergency kit in your vehicle, including water, snacks, a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher and a map of your route.
  • Ensure your mobile phone is charged and have a backup charger; a battery-powered radio can be handy.
  • Familiarise yourself with the area you’re visiting, including evacuation routes and the locations of local emergency services.

Read more on bushfires and staying safe at home:

Written by Liz McGrath.